Holy Living: The Sermon on the Mount

A Good News Bible Study on Matthew 5, 6, & 7

Sermon on the Mount

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(Part 1) Matthew 5:1-6

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As the scene opens, we see Jesus preparing to teach on a mountainside. In Bible symbolism, when an event takes place on a mountain, it means that this is an important contact with God.

First, Jesus notices the crowd. We can imagine that He feels a great concern for each person. He understands their needs, and He wants to help them. The best teaching He can give them is one that will guide them into a more love-filled life, in which they are closer to God than ever before. Picture yourself in the crowd. He is speaking to you. He is addressing the needs you have today.

The first set of Beatitudes (verses 3-6) focuses on our relationship with God. The rest of them will center on our relationships with each other. This pattern reflects Jesus’ core message: first love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37). The first four Beatitudes tell us that God is the source of our happiness. When we accept into our daily lives the values of God’s kingdom, we grow into a fuller relationship with Him.

We are “poor in spirit” when we stop placing our confidence in material security or other false gods (the kingdom of the world). By depending instead on God (the kingdom of heaven), we experience His power and love and faithfulness.

We “mourn” when our fallen flesh-nature wants to take the easy path that leads to sin but our sanctified spirit chooses to resist and to take the holy path. God comforts us while we struggle and suffer. His ability to comfort us is limitless.

We are “meek” when we are submissive to God and obedient to His commands. Inheriting the “land” means becoming one of God’s royal children in the kingdom of heaven.

We “hunger for righteousness” when we choose to live morally, i.e., when we conform our will to God’s will. This hunger will be satisfied because God helps us achieve righteousness. What may seem impossible for us is not impossible for God.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Describe a time when you died to yourself by choosing to be poor in spirit, trusting in God when it seemed easier or more sensible to trust in the things of this world.

2. Describe an experience of fighting against yourself because you didn’t want to do something God’s way. Did you feel like crying in frustration? Did your flesh-nature mourn when you refused to give in to it? How did God comfort you?

3. What are some rules of the Church that people don’t like to obey? Is there a rule that you first disobeyed then obeyed? Why did you change? What effect did it have on you?

4. Name ways we can grow in righteousness. What activities purify us? Have you ever become more loving or more morally upright because you were tested?


(Part 2) Matthew 5:7-12

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The second half of the Beatitudes focuses on our relationships with each other. The first three of these deal with how to live like Christ. Verses 10 through 12 show what results from that kind of living. The second half of the Beatitudes reflects the spiritual growth that is produced by the first half. When we are poor in spirit and place our trust in God’s mercy (verse 3), the next step is to give His mercy to others, and this results in the blessing of receiving even more of God’s mercy (verse 7).

When we’ve wanted to sin but we’ve chosen instead to live God’s way, even though it makes our flesh-nature mourn (verse 4), we become pure in our hearts and we can see God more fully, i.e., we dwell in the presence of God (verse 8). This purity allows the light of Christ in us to shine more brightly onto others, and they are brought closer to God through the witness of our lives.

When we are meek (verse 5), we become peacemakers (verse 9), because we no longer fight and argue with others. Consider how God deals with us when we choose the path of sin. Does He fight against us? Sometimes it seems like we’re wrestling with Him, but it’s not God who’s arguing: We’re the ones who do all the complaining and yelling and struggling.

Being peacemakers means we live as His children by handling conflicts the same way He does. We love our “enemies” unconditionally. We turn the other cheek. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which tells us that God wants us to handle conflicts by being patient instead of demanding, by showing kindness and serving the person who fights against us, by not being rude, by not seeking our own interests or defending our own causes, by not being quick-tempered or brooding over our injuries, by bearing whatever our “enemy” does to us, by never giving up hope and by always enduring.

When we live this way, we become more like Christ than those who don’t. For this reason they persecute us, trying to convince themselves that they should never become like us so that they don’t have to give up their old ways and be converted. If we’re not experiencing persecution, we’re not really living the Beatitudes.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Name some of the contrasts between the world and Christianity (for example, lying versus honesty). How does the Christian way show purity of heart?

2. Tell the story of a time when you served as a peacemaker. (No names, please!) How did it reveal Jesus to the people with whom you dealt? If you saw that it made a difference in their spiritual lives, tell about that, too.

3. Describe a time when you were persecuted because of your relationship with God. Perhaps someone misunderstood your faith, or rejected you, or deliberately caused problems for you. Did you feel blessed by it? Did you feel closer or further from Jesus when it happened? Did you grow spiritually or did you loose some faith because of it? Why?


(Part 3) Matthew 5:13-16

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“You are the salt of the earth.” The word “you” refers to any Christian — including you. What does it mean to be salt? Think about what salt does. It adds flavor to something that lacks sufficient taste. Jesus also says, in verse 13, that if someone loses his flavor, “with what can it be seasoned?” Reread that as “by whom can it be seasoned?” Only God can renew a flavor that has been lost.

The Christian is someone who has been made flavorful — alive in holiness — by Christ. The useful Christian is one who evangelizes by adding the seasoning of Jesus’ love to another person’s life. But beware of trying too hard! What happens when food is over-salted? It tastes terrible; people don’t want to eat it. No matter how good our intentions may be, if we come on too strong, we do more harm than help. Maybe we’re trying to bring an unwilling spouse to church or to convince a neighbor to trust God, but they don’t want a Jesus who seems condemning or forceful. They’re much more likely to turn to a Jesus who loves them just the way they are, who is gentle, who serves them in their needs.

Verses 14 – 16 tell us to be a light that others cannot help but notice. What kind of light? One that blinds? Of course not. In John 8:12, Jesus says “I am the light of the world.” Jesus is within us; His glow should be what others see when they look at us. We are not to hide our relationship with Him. An effective Christian is one whose faith is visible, whose glow is the love that comes from Christ, and whose good deeds glorify the Father because they are accomplished through the love of Christ.

Notice in verse 14 that Jesus calls us a “city.” We are not to evangelize alone. A city is a group of people: a parish, a family, a church organization. Being Christian means being in community. When our light is joined to the lights of others, our collective glow is much brighter, much more effective in revealing the love of Christ to the world. Why? Because nonbelievers become convinced that the love of Christ is real when they see us living out that love with each other: unconditionally, generously, with a servant’s heart (see Acts 2:42-47).

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. How can you identify people whose lives are lacking the full flavor of Jesus’ love? And how can you season their lives with the love of Jesus that is in you?

2. In what ways have you over-salted someone by trying too hard or too often to evangelize? What were the results?

3. What obstructs the light of Christ that glows within us? It should shine through us so brightly that others are converted just by being near us. Why aren’t they seeing Christ in us? What blocks their view of Him? What needs to be changed in us so that they can see Him clearly?


(Part 4) Matthew 5:17-20

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The Jewish hierarchy of Jesus’ day were often literalists in their interpretation of the Law of God, which had been given to them through Moses. Jesus, however, gave a deeper meaning to the Law. He placed His focus on the goal of the Law: perfect love. He taught it through His words and in the way He treated people.

His non-literal view caused some confusion, so Jesus clarified His meaning. In effect, He said, “The interpretation that I give to the Law does not mean that the laws are invalid. Rather, it shows that you are not even fulfilling the Law if your so-called obedience isn’t motivated by love for God and love for neighbor (see Matt. 22:35-40).”

When Jesus spoke of heaven and earth passing away (verse 18), He was not referring to a literal end of the universe. Astute Jewish listeners understood the connection to the well-known prophecy in Isaiah 65:17, where God promised to create a new heaven and a new earth by sending the Messiah. They didn’t know it yet, but the passing away of the old heaven and earth was going to happen at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And this was not going to happen until Jesus had finished His work by fulfilling the true meaning of each and every law. As our true Messiah, He had to make up for every failure, fill in every gap, and restore everything that was lacking in the way humankind had obeyed God. In this way, He gave His absolute, complete love to each of us.

Therefore (verse 19), as His followers, we also are to be generous with love. Obeying all the commandments — truly obeying them — requires loving God with our whole heart and our whole soul and our whole mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. For example, consider the Church law that says we must attend Mass every weekend, and missing Mass (except when incapacitated) is a sin. Does this mean that we are obeying God if we sit in church without missing a Sunday? No, not really — not if, while we sit there, we do nothing to experience a genuine relationship with God. Attending Mass should result in a growth of loving God and neighbor. Encountering Jesus in the Word and in the Eucharist should make a difference in how we love. The bottom line is always love.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Were you ever treated unlovingly because of another person’s legalism? How did that experience hide the true nature of Jesus?

2. Name common ways that Christians fail to obey God. What might Jesus have done to make up for those failures? For example, how do you suppose Jesus treats unborn babies who’ve been aborted? How does He treat the mothers and the abortionists?

3. Imagine that you’ve met a young couple who are living together unmarried. What’s the best way to invite them to partake of the Sacrament of Marriage? With other group members, do some role playing to try different approaches.


(Part 5) Matthew 5:21-26

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Jesus continues the Sermon by giving specific examples of how to transform the literal interpretations of Mosaic laws into the Law of Love. In each case, He explains that true believers take the more difficult, more loving approach.

His first topic is anger, and He makes us aware of the increasing dangers of anger by referring to increasingly disastrous results in the angry person’s soul. At the lowest level, anger in the heart results in “judgment,” which is represented by the Jewish local court, where the least of the three punishments are meted out.

Then, He names one of the initial ways that anger in the heart becomes anger that kills: To shout “raqa” at someone is to call them a nitwit or imbecile. It destroys their self-esteem. It belittles them. The abuser must now face a trial before the Sanhredin, the highest judicial body.

Finally, Jesus warns that calling someone a fool is even worse. No longer an “imbecile,” the person under attack is “worthless” (the direct meaning of the Greek word). The Jews understood the word to be filled with contempt. To hate someone so much as to see no value in them is to condemn oneself to Gehenna. Gehenna was a name given to a nearby valley that was the center of a cult that killed children by fire as a sacrifice to the gods. The Jews used the name to illustrate the concept of punishment by fire; today we call it “hell.” This theme of anger being equal to murder is easier to understand in light of 1 John 4:7-21, which says that God is love, and when we have anger, we have hatred; we don’t have love, so we don’t have God, and we therefore don’t have eternal life.

The rest of this passage is God’s remedy for the times we feel anger. In essence, Jesus says: Go and do whatever is necessary to be reconciled with the one who’s made you angry. This, He points out, is even more important than worshiping God. How genuine can your worship really be if anger has replaced love in your heart, since God is love?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Jesus used name-calling as an example of how we treat others unlovingly. What are some other ways that we belittle people or kill their self-esteem? Why is that so harmful to them?

2. Can you recall an incident in which someone treated you unfairly, but you responded with an act of love? How difficult was it to give that love? What were the results?

3. Anger is a normal human feeling. In itself, it is neither right nor wrong. Jesus even felt angry. At what point does anger become sinful? Why does expressing anger hurt the people who experience our anger?


(Part 6) Matthew 5:27-37

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What parts of our lives do we still cling to, even though they lead us to sin? That’s what Jesus is asking us to discover now. In verse 27, we see a widely accepted definition of sin: committing an unloving deed (such as adultery). But many people stop there; they assume that it’s a sin only when the deed is actually committed. However, Jesus is challenging us to look beyond the deed. It’s what’s in our heart that counts. If, to use Jesus’ example in verse 28, we wish we could have an affair, we are sinning. Why? The heart is where love dwells, and if thoughts of adultery dwell there, love is pushed out. When we forsake the spouse by turning to another for sexual intimacy, we are being unloving toward the spouse. So too, if we only dream of turning to another. It is still unloving toward our spouse.

Verses 29 and 30 extend the teaching to include every area of our lives that is lacking the expression of love. Perhaps our eyes cause us to sin because we enjoy watching movies with sex or violence or other unloving actions. If so, we also commit sin with our hands by picking up the movie from the video store shelf.

Perhaps our sin comes from the part of us that expects perfection from others because perfection was expected from us while we grew up. Is it okay to excuse our behavior because it’s so ingrained is us? Or is it better to identify and overcome our childhood training? What about the habits and addictions that are hard to break? Do we excuse them, or do we overcome them to make more room for love?

There are many areas of our lives that need to be “cut out and thrown away.”

In verses 31 and 32, Jesus makes an even higher point using adultery. Since a valid marriage is a commitment, and breaking commitments is unloving, then divorce — if the marriage was valid — is a sin. Making promises (verses 33-37) is another form of commitment. Breaking an oath is unloving. Lying and never intending to keep the commitment is also unloving.

Jesus is asking us: “What’s in your heart? How much room is left for love?”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What habits or addictions do you have that are unloving toward yourself? Why are they so unloving?

2. What is the most common way you treat others unlovingly? It might be impatience, or unkind words, or turning your back on the needs of others, for example. Identify from what area of your life this comes. (Eg., impatience might come from feeling superior.)

3. Describe a time when you overcame a sinful tendency. How did you recognize it as a sin? What made you decide to change? How did the change affect others?


(Part 7) Matthew 5:38-48

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Mercy is the key to understanding why we should love others the way Jesus tells us to in this difficult-to-live passage. Think of love as the front door to people’s hearts. When they close it, mercy is the love that sneaks in the back door.

In early Old Testament times, hatred was rampant. If someone got angry and punched out another’s eye, the victim would gather his clan and retaliate by wiping out his aggressor’s clan. So God gave them a law that would bring them closer to love: If someone hurts your eye, you may do nothing more than the same to him. It was still unloving, but at least it was fair.

When Jesus came, He raised the standards: If someone hurts your eye, love him. When people hurt us, they don’t understand that they’re actually hurting themselves. They don’t know that they’re clogging up their hearts with hatred. They don’t know that while their hearts are closed, they can’t experience God and His love. But if we continue to love them despite what they do to us, we’re giving them God’s love through the back door. If we refuse to give them love, we are refusing to give them God, and we are closing our own doors to God and His love.

If someone strikes you on one cheek (verse 39), don’t give him an angry fist; give him love. If someone wants to take from you a valued possession (verse 40), you can’t stop her greed but you can stop her from sinning against you: give it to her freely and cheerfully. And to prove your willingness to love her, give her another of your possessions. If someone asks you to do a chore for him that’s not fair (verse 41), prevent it from being a sin of cruelty by gladly doing what he asks and volunteering to do more. If you’re approached by a “bum” who can’t keep a job and he wants you to give him money (verse 42), keep him from sinning by giving him no opportunity to hate you.

This is what it means to be perfect (verse 48). Perfection in the Bible means love — complete, full, unlimited, merciful love.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Think of a time when God showed you mercy, a time when you didn’t deserve His love. What did it feel like when He gave you His love anyway? How did it change you?

2. What is an enemy? Give a definition that includes everyone you know, including yourself. How often do you experience enemies affecting your life?

3. When was the last time you did a good deed to an enemy? What kind of an impact did your good deed make on him or her?

4. List some ideas for good deeds that can be simply and easily done while someone is hurting you.


(Part 8) Matthew 6:1-4

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Jesus turns His attention to three tools of spiritual growth — almsgiving, prayer and fasting — and explains the right attitude we must have toward each of them, while He contrasts them to the wrong attitude held be many Pharisees. First, Jesus deals with almsgiving, i.e., generosity.

Generosity is a normal, expected result of believing in God, because He is generous toward us. In Malachi 3:8-9, God tells us that we rob Him when we don’t give Him tithes and offerings. A tithe means ten percent of everything we receive; offerings are gifts above and beyond the tithe. This seems like much more than we can afford, especially when we’re not used to giving back to God that amount, but we can never out-do God in generosity. He promises in Malachi 3:10 that if we bring Him the whole tithe, He will replace it with such an abundance, we won’t have room to hold it all. Unable to hold it all, we distribute more of what we have to help those who have less.

Some Christians believe in a “prosperity gospel,” a here’s-how-to-use-God-to-get-rich-quick scheme: If I want $100, I’ll donate $10 to the Church. However, the purpose for this kind of generosity is to reward ourselves, rather than to be God’s servant as a distributor of His graces. It’s not true generosity. It’s no better than the Pharisees’ sin of “blowing their own horns.” When the focus is on ourselves and what we’ve done or what we can get out of it, our generosity is not born out of love for God and love for people.

When Matthew wrote down this teaching of Jesus, he used two different Greek word for “reward”: the payment received by the Pharisees, who were rewarded for their good deeds like someone who is merely a hireling, and the reward given to those whose generosity is based on love.

Those who give lovingly are “re-paid” over and over again as friends of God, and friends share freely with each other. What we sow is what we reap. Our love for God and people opens us to receive love. If we are generous with our money or time or patience, we avail ourselves of God’s infinite generosity. If we treat others with mercy or forgiveness, we likewise receive mercy and forgiveness — again and again.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Name some of the many, different ways we can be generous. What do we have that we can share with others (materially, emotionally, spiritually, etc.)?

2. Tell the story of a time when you were lacking something that you needed. How did God reveal His generosity to you? Did you get what you needed? Through what person or people did God deliver this help? Was it hard or easy to accept this help?

3. Describe an incident when you decided to give away something but had a difficult time letting go of it. How did you know you should give it away? What process did you go through in learning to let go? How has it changed your life?


(Part 9) Matthew 6:5-15

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The second tool of spiritual growth discussed by Jesus is prayer. There is a right way to pray and a wrong way, a right attitude and a wrong attitude. Do we pray with pious words and appropriate gestures to get people’s approval? Do we turn our attention to God in prayer because we want Him to grant us favors? Do we recite formula prayers over and over to convince God to pay us heed? Or is prayer simply communication with the One we love?

Jesus said (verse 8): “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” If this is true, then why bother asking? God already loves us and wants to help us, so what’s the purpose of prayer? It is this: Praying means we recognize God’s value and our inability to live without Him.

Prayer means that we love God and trust Him. When we ask for help, we can tell Him how we’d like Him to answer our prayer, but if we trust Him, we add: “Father, You handle this the way You know is best in the timing You know is best.”

When Jesus gave us the “Our Father” as an example of how to pray, He showed us that our communication with God should include praise, submission, petition, penance, forgiveness, and warfare against temptation and Satan:

“Our Father in heaven” means God is majestic, universal, eternal and infinite.

“Hallowed be Your Name” means we realize that only God is holy.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done” means we want God’s holiness in our lives.

“Give us this day our daily bread” means we want God to feed us with anything that will help us become more like Him today.

“Forgive us as we forgive others” means we know we need forgiveness and we acknowledge that we should only be forgiven as much as we are forgiving.

“Do not subject us to the final test” refers to the final judgment experienced by those who have rejected a life of holiness.

“Deliver us from the evil one” means we want Christ’s victory over the interference of demons, and we need Him to overcome their influence of unholiness.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. How has your prayer life changed over the years? How did each phase help you with what you needed at the time?

2. How do you know God is listening when you pray? How do you know He cares about you and the other people for whom you pray?

3. Tell about a time when God answered a prayer in a wondrous, timely or even miraculous fashion? Did this incident bring you or anyone else closer to Him? Did it only solve a problem for that time, or did it change a life forever?


(Part 10) Matthew 6:16-21

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The third tool of spiritual growth discussed by Jesus is fasting (verses 16 – 18). Again, Jesus makes the point that it is better to do something because it helps your spiritual life rather than because others will be impressed by it. He then explains why it is better. The rewards we receive from the Father are treasures (verses 19 – 21) that will belong to us for all of eternity.

What are these treasures that cannot be destroyed by moths or decay or thieves or anything else of this world? We have a hard time understanding what they are and why they are the “choice” treasures because we’re so used to owning the “stuff” of this world. And we’re constantly seeking more money so we can accumulate more “stuff.” We want heaven to be a place where we can own huge mansions filled with our favorite “stuff.” What kid has not imagined heaven to be a place where he can play the best video games all day? What’s your favorite possession? Can you imagine heaven being fun without it?

Fasting originated in Jewish history as a personal sacrifice for the Day of Atonement. Today, fasting is recommended by the Church as a means of acquiring “mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (Catechism paragraph 2043). In other words, fasting helps us experience greater conversion.

All three spiritual tools are instruments of conversion: Almsgiving matures us spiritually because we sacrifice our love of “stuff” for the love of others; Prayer matures us because we sacrifice our love of time for the love of God; Fasting matures us because we sacrifice our love of self (and our enjoyment of food) so that we can become free to love God and others. In return for these sacrifices, we gain better relationships, i.e., we improve our ability to enjoy close, intimate, fulfilling relationships with God and with people. These are the treasures we can carry to heaven. And we don’t have to wait to get there to enjoy them. We live in the kingdom of God right now! Are you stockpiling your treasures?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Consider the ashes you receive on your forehead on Ash Wednesday. Why do you wear the ashes after you leave church? How long do you keep it on? Why? In light of what Jesus said in verses 16 – 18, is it better to wash off the ashes as soon as you can? What other outward signs of your spiritual deeds do you exhibit? Should they be kept hidden?

2. Share what it was like to fast during a difficult time in your life. Why did you choose to fast? What affect did it have on you?

3. Besides having good relationships, what are other treasures that you’ll enjoy in heaven? What is good in your life now that comes from your heart? How will that be useful when you’re living in eternity? (Be creative when you imagine what you’ll do in heaven!)


(Part 11) Matthew 6:22-34

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The rest of the Sermon is advice on how to live in the holiness that Jesus has been teaching. Interestingly, it follows the pattern Jesus set in the “Our Father” prayer, starting with “give us this day our daily bread” as reflected in these verses, which say: Trust in God for your daily needs.

To be able to trust God, we have to rely on good spiritual vision (verses 22 – 23). Our eyes must be focused on God and His ways of responding to our world. If we are obedient to Him, we are filled with His light, His truth, and His love. However, when we turn away from Him and look instead at the world’s values, our lives our plunged into darkness. And if the only so-called “light” we have is the way of the world, how great is the darkness within us!

Jesus is making the choice clear: Either we choose God or we choose the world. We cannot serve both (verse 24). If we serve the world, we are not at the same time serving God, although we might fool ourselves into believing that the religious things we do keep one foot in heaven while the other foot walks the paths of the world.

The word “mammon” comes from the Aramaic word for “wealth” or “property.” It’s been said that someone once prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” and God replied, “You already have your bread and other people’s bread, too.” How much do we have stored up that could have been shared with others? In our society, we’ve been convinced to trust more in our retirement savings than in God. We store up for the future while there are people in our communities who can’t make it through today due to the lack of what we have in abundance. And yet it seems terribly dangerous to give away what we have stored up. We are not trusting God.

That’s why Jesus went on to say, “You worry too much! Don’t worry if you’ll have enough of what you need” (verses 25 – 34). “God loves you so much, He’ll take care of you! If you seek first God’s kingdom and do things God’s way, you’ll have everything you need. Stop worrying!”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. In what ways do people “straddle the fence”? What are some of the compromises we make, convincing ourselves that the Bible or the Church didn’t really mean what it sounds like it means, so that we can feel okay about disobeying God?

2. How attached are we to our property? What are your favorite possessions? If you knew someone needed them, could you part with them? What do we hang onto that we could survive without? How are we serving the world instead of God by keeping these?

3. Why is this part of the Sermon on the Mount so difficult to accept and live?


(Part 12) Matthew 7:1-6

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Continuing in the pattern of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells us not to judge (“forgive us as much as we forgive those who sin against us”). He wants us to remember that we are as much a sinner as the other person. He wants us to realize that when we condemn others as being more sinful than us, we are actually committing the greater sin by belittling them (killing them) in our thoughts and with our words and actions. Think of someone who frequently irritates you. We want to change the people who do that to us! We want to make them stop behaving in that irritating way.

We want them to realize what they’re wrong, because if they change, they’ll become easier to live with. To help them and to protect ourselves, our automatic response is to tell them what needs to change.

However, they don’t see this as being helpful, do they? They think we’re attacking them. They think we’re not loving them because we don’t accept them as they are — and they’re right! This is not unconditional love. What we’re really saying is, “Even though I love you, I will love you even more if you stop doing what I don’t like.”

So how do we help someone grow to become more like the good, loving person God created them to be? Jesus tells us how in verse 5. He doesn’t prohibit us from recognizing the faults of others, but He does tell us to first recognize our own sinfulness. Then we can go to the person who irritates us and admit our own failings. When he sees us approach him with humility instead of superiority, he is more willing to listen.

But what if we try it Jesus’ way and the person still won’t listen? Jesus says in verse 6 that it’s time to quit trying. What happens when we offer pearls to pigs? They don’t know what to do with our pearls of wisdom, so they respond in the only way they know how. They trample on the pearls because they’re afraid of change; they desperately want to believe our wisdom is wrong.

Or they might genuinely want to accept our wisdom but they don’t know how to benefit from it. So they try to eat the pearls and end up choking on them. Under these circumstances, it is actually more loving to keep the pearls away from them than it is to force our help upon them.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What are some phrases we can use to communicate to another person that we understand their faults because we have faults, too?

2. Tell about a time when you corrected someone’s faults in an unloving manner, and contrast that to another time when you handled it lovingly. What were the differences in the results?

3. Describe an incident when you tried every loving way to help someone change and that person nevertheless rejected you. At what point would it have been best to quit trying because you were casting pearls before swine? Now, someone else in the group should share from experience the value of letting go of the “swine.”


(Part 13) Matthew 7:7-11

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Jesus now reflects back to the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer: “Rely on Our Father who is in heaven; ask and it will be given to you” (verse 7). After telling us in previous verses to trust in God, Jesus is assuring us that God will give us whatever we need. God is love itself. His love for us is perfect, unending, and unconditional. Certainly, He loves us more than we human parents are capable of loving our children.

In Jesus’ day, bread was baked in a round shape and looked similar to stones that were common in the area, and people often ate a fish called “barbut” that resembled a serpent. This is why Jesus used these images (in verse 9) to convince us to trust God. His reasoning is that since we use the limited love we have to give our children what they need, we can believe that God who has unlimited love will certainly give us everything we need.

So why aren’t our prayers always answered the way we want them to be? It is not because God has ignored us or is too busy or is punishing us or is unloving in any way. God always does what is best for both us and everyone involved. True prayer is giving God our love and trust so completely that we can say, “Here’s my prayer request, Father. Answer it however You know is best, in the timing You know is best, even if it’s not the way I want or expect. I thank you now, before my prayer is answered, because I know You are already working a plan for good to come out of this situation.”

The most important result of prayer that Jesus wants us to discover is a closer relationship with God. In verses 7 and 8, He says, “If you knock, the door will be opened.” In Luke’s version of this quote (Luke 11:13), Jesus adds, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Prayer isn’t about getting “stuff” as if God were Santa Claus. Prayer isn’t about controlling God, as if He were a magic genie. Prayer IS about receiving ALL the gifts God makes available, including the gifts that come from the Holy Spirit. When we receive these gifts, our lives bear the fruits of the Spirit, which are the fruits of holy living.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What are the different forms of prayer that you’ve used down through the years? Which were the most effective? Why were they more effective than other types of prayer?

2. Tell the story of something that happened more than a year ago when your prayers didn’t get answered. Why do you think they didn’t get answered the way you wanted them to? Did God come up with a different way to deal with the situation? Were the end results good or bad? Describe why you think the results were good or bad.

3. Think of a time when you experienced some sort of conversion. What part did prayer play in the experience?


(Part 14) Matthew 7:12-14

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We can find in today’s verses a reflection of “do not subject us to the final test” (lead us not into temptation) that Jesus taught us to pray in the “Our Father.” Looking first at the “narrow gate” section (verses 13 and 14), Jesus is warning us that it is very easy to fail the final test, which is given to us on our personal judgment day.

At the moment of our death, our minds shed the limitations of earthly life and we become fully aware of God and the depth of His love. We also see clearly the condition of our own soul: how much — or how little — we’ve loved. The narrow road is the path of love, for God is love. But it’s impossible for us to love perfectly! So Jesus said, “For you it’s impossible, but with God it becomes possible” (Matt. 19:26). Jesus made it possible by substituting His perfect love for our imperfect love on the cross.

The Golden Rule (verse 12) is a sign-post that keeps us on the narrow road. Jesus took an old Jewish maxim and turned it around to tell us how to stay on this path. The ancient saying (we could call it the Silver Rule) went: “Do not do to others what you don’t want them doing to you.” But this is not love! Enemies can follow the Silver Rule; it takes love to follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”

Sometimes we think the Golden Rule goes like this: “Treat others the way you want them to treat you, because then they’ll have to treat you this way. They’ll owe it to you.” But this is not love. This is bribery.

Love produces this type of thinking: “Why am I arguing with this guy? The way I’d like to be treated is for him to stop fighting with me, so that’s how I’ll treat him. I’ll stop arguing, regardless of how he treats me back, because I love him as much as myself.”

Love is also this: “Someone has stolen my money. How would I like to be treated if I had become a thief? If I were caught, wouldn’t I want to be forgiven, to be given another chance, to be kept out of prison? Of course! So this is how I’ll treat the person who’s stolen from me. I’ll give him love instead of condemnation. After all, that’s what Jesus has done for me!”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Think of an experience of conversion you’ve had. It could be a life-changing conversion or a smaller, attitude-changing conversion in which you became more like Christ. In what ways was this a fork in the road, where one direction led toward heaven and the other led away from it? How did your decision to take the narrow road cause you to become more loving?

2. What are some common injustices in which people are treated unfairly? List several. Then imagine these injustices happening to you. In accordance with the Golden Rule, describe how you should respond to those who commit each of these injustices.

3. Tell of a situation that actually happened to you in which you felt hurt. How did you apply the Golden Rule? Or how could you have applied it, now that you better understand love?


(Part 15) Matthew 7:15-20

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Once again reflecting the “Our Father” prayer, Jesus warns us about the ways evil might penetrate our lives (“deliver us from evil”). In this case, He focuses on the mistake we easily make of listening to wrong messages. A true prophet speaks for God and is a teacher of truth. There are many Christians today who think they are teaching the truth, but they have unknowingly mixed falsehoods into their beliefs.

We see examples of this in people who combine Christian attitudes with the self-centered wisdom of the business world, or people who enthusiastically lead others to believe in every apparition of Mary and vision of Jesus without regard to legitimacy. Often, New Age concepts are woven into Christian beliefs. Many of us have been influenced, to some degree, by the notion that “if it seems right to me, I’ll go ahead and do it, even if it disagrees with Church teaching” (the use of artificial birth control is a common example).

Some false teachings are so subtle that it’s hard to recognize the damage they’re causing. For instance, a couple in a difficult marriage might ask for God’s help and then believe He’s telling them to get divorced. They’ve learned from society and the examples set by others that it is wrong to suffer in a marriage. Staying married seems more harmful than getting out, but Jesus taught us to love our enemies (abusive and perverse situations require separation while continuing to love the spouse). God’s ways are always what is best for us. He is not a God of disunity but a God of reconciliation. Our eternal souls are more harmed by the unloving act of pushing aside one of God’s children (our spouse) than by the suffering that occurs as we learn to love others despite great difficulties.

With so many false teachings beckoning us, how can we know the difference between what is truth and what is not? Jesus gave the answer: Look at the fruits. Does the teaching lead us closer to God or away from Him? Does it fully agree with Scripture? Does it serve the kingdom of God or does it accomplish a goal of Satan? Does it serve the other people involved or does it serve only ourselves and our desires and insecurities? Love is always the bottom line. Does the teaching help us love others the way God has first loved us? True prophets always lead us farther down the narrow road of verses 13 and 14.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. Over the years, you have grown in your understanding of the right way to live. Talk about how some of your beliefs have changed. Name an old belief that you’ve given up because you learned it was wrong. In what way was this belief unloving? Why did you change your mind about this belief? What have been the fruits of your new way of thinking?

2. When you become aware that someone you know is living by a false belief, how do you normally handle the situation? Do you try to convince him/her that he/she is wrong? What is the most loving way of correcting that person’s belief?

3. What if the person of Question #2 refuses to change? Is it right to keep trying to make him/her understand the truth? (Hint: refer back to the lesson on Matt. 7:6.) Discuss why.


(Part 16) Matthew 7:21-23

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After warning against false prophets, Jesus now explains how to be a true disciple: Simply do the will of the Father. But what is His will? How can we be sure we correctly understand His will? How do we know if we really are a true disciple of Jesus?

A disciple learns from and imitates his teacher. We are all disciples of something or someone — of whatever has been a source of learning. For example, TV programs teach us that it’s good to make fun of people. Business training tells us that it’s appropriate to get as much money out of customers as we can. And we learn from being ridiculed and rejected that it is better to avoid talking about Jesus. And yet, we profess to be Christians. We claim to be followers of Jesus — the same Jesus who said that poking fun at someone means we’re belittling him or seeing him as having no value, which condemns us to Gehenna (Matt. 5:22), the same Jesus who never charged a fee for His services, the same Jesus who warned that if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us when we come before the Father at our death (see Mark 8:38).

None of us are perfect in our discipleship. We’re not always true disciples, but neither were the first Apostles. So don’t get down on yourself; God still loves you! He doesn’t expect you to reach perfection while you’re on this earth. A true disciple is one who always strives to become more like Jesus and keeps doing whatever he can to improve.

The “evildoer” who will be rejected by Jesus (verse 23) could be someone who goes to church every weekend, serves as Eucharistic Minister, and helps out any way the pastor asks — to earn his or her way into heaven. But Jesus said that the only people who enter heaven are those who do the will of the Father (verse 21). What is the will of the Father? Jesus has been teaching it throughout the Sermon on the Mount: God’s will is to love. Whatever we do that is loving is what unites us to Jesus and heaven. When we rely on our works to get us into heaven, we are not truly disciples of Jesus. But when we love the way Jesus loves, we do God’s works of love, and so we become true disciples.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What is the difference between doing a good deed because it needs to be done and doing it because you care? Think of cooking a meal for a family who has just experienced a death in the family. For what reasons might a person do this service other than because he/she really cares about the people who are grieving? Name some other good deeds and list reasons for performing them other than love.

2. Describe a time when someone did a good deed serving your needs. Perhaps it was your spouse who did it, or a neighbor or church member. Did you perceive love in that deed? What impact did that have on you?

3. In what ways could you serve others more lovingly? Where is change in you needed?


(Part 17) Matthew 7:24-29

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Jesus concludes His sermon with great emphasis on how important it is to put into practice what He has preached. We cannot afford to be merely hearers of the Word; our salvation depends on being doers of the Word. And this Word can be summed up briefly: Be givers of God’s unconditional love.

We all find that it’s easy to listen to a good sermon and then go home and be no different than we were before. It’s much easier than changing. When you started this Bible Study, you were unaware of some of the teachings of Jesus that are contained in His Sermon on the Mount. But you can no longer claim ignorance. How will you apply these teachings in your life? Jesus said that if you take them seriously and act on them, you will build a life that can withstand any storm, any persecution, any trial, any problems caused by people who make you suffer. But if you don’t let the teachings of Jesus transform you, the troubles that come along will destroy you — they’ll destroy your peace, your joy, and your awareness that God is loving you and offering you help.

Everyone is living through some storm right now! It’s a rare time when everything is peaceful around us. Therefore, our only true peace has to come from within. We try dealing with problems the way our worldly training tells us to, but we don’t find lasting peace with those solutions. Sometimes we don’t even find temporary peace!

And yet, it seems crazy to expect peace from doing what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Love your enemies? Don’t be angry, even when someone is angry at you? When a person hurts you, be willing to get hurt again by offering the other cheek? Give to anyone who asks for something from you and even give more? Don’t judge but always forgive? This way of living isn’t fair! And when life isn’t fair, we’re in turmoil.

Actually, when we try to deal with the storm by any means other than love, we end up in greater difficulty because we kick up new storms. But when we quit fighting God and His ways, the turmoil subsides. His love takes over. He becomes the source of our happiness and we stop relying on others for peace. The storm can rage all it wants, and we will still live in peace. God’s ways really are the best ways. Love makes all the difference.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. How do you plan to apply the lessons you’ve learned in this Bible Study course? What do you hope will change in your life?

2. Look back over the verses that you’ve studied in previous weeks. Which ones challenged you the most? Why were they a challenge to you? How have you changed as a result?

3. Tell the story of a time when you went against “logic” and responded to a situation with Christ-like love. How much inner turmoil did you feel before and how much turmoil did you feel after you handled it God’s way? Why do you think there was a difference?


© 1997 by Terry A. Modica: All Rights Reserved. For a printable copy and a license to distribute, please go to catholicdr.com/ebooks/HolyLiving.htm

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Good News Ministries of Tampa Bay is a Catholic adult faith formation and evangelization ministry in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. We offer events such as seminars, retreats, courses, and parish missions. Our speakers for Catholic adult education specialize in teaching the Church documents, Bible study, the Vocation of Marriage, and prayer. Our services include daily Good News Reflections on the readings from Catholic Mass, WordBytes e-magazine, Virtual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Online Rosaries, and much more. As a non-profit charitable organization, GNM charges no fees but accepts donations to continue ministering. Catholic Digital Resources is Terry Modica's writing services company. Good News Ministries of Tampa Bay, Inc., is an equal opportunity agency; we never practice discrimination based upon age, ethnicity, gender, national origin, disability, race, size, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background, other than as allowed by law.